I’ll admit to not being very excited to see Jennifer’s Body on first look. Coming as a fast-tracked script, hot on the heels of Diablo Cody’s successful debut Juno, it just looked rushed, abused, and left for dead. After the production house Fox Atomic folded and dissolved back into its parent, the future did not look bright. However, being a teen horror flick starring Megan Fox had to all but assure it a theatrical release of some sort. And here it is at the Toronto Film Festival as part of the Midnight Madness series. I had hoped to view it in that atmosphere and the spectacle it would become, but instead had to settle for a press screening during the day with about five other attendees rather than the rowdy sellout crowd including Fox herself. Thankfully though, the film didn’t need a circus to make it fun, it does it all by itself. Camp galore and intentional unintentional laughter help make up for any shortcomings to the horror genre on the whole. But then isn’t a complete subgenre created around fun, pop culture, and absurdity?
If I’ve learned anything from this film it is that you never sacrifice a non-virgin to the devil when only a virgin can do the trick … it’s just not done people. If any credit can be given to Cody—despite the very hyper-tween dialogue that was cute in Juno, but eventually more and more annoying, especially here—it is in the inventive creativity used on the whole “sell your soul to the devil” idea. Usually when a ritual act of that kind is committed, bad things happen to those that signed the contract. Here, however, through an occult loophole, the botched deal causes a rift in dimensions and leaves a possessed cheerleader out for human flesh. Because, honestly, what’s better when needing to clear up blemishes, liven your hair, and add a little glow to your cheeks then blood? In perfect casting, that of a not-so-talented actress in Megan Fox, Cody’s dialogue fits right at home with the campiness as well. Fox’s delivery is so tongue-in-cheek that whether or not she’d have acted the same if trying to be serious, the role is on the money. Seductive, sarcastic, and deadly, Jennifer’s body is indeed a lethal weapon.
It is not just the somewhat tired devil angle being flipped on its head that’s the only surprise, though, nor is it the fact that I had a good time with a “bad” film. The cast is full of memorable cameos as well as effective leads, the blood and gore never go too crazy and oftentimes occur off screen with only the result shown, and the storytelling structure successfully is bookmarked with moments that take place after the bulk of the action. The story is actually a retelling of what happened by the true star of the film Needy, played by Amanda Seyfried. Here is a mousy little girl that is best friends with the hottest and most popular high schooler in their sleepy town. She has an equally geeky boyfriend and wardrobe, but the sandbox history with Jennifer to keep her “cool kid” cred alive. This is the Needy we are introduced to in the trailer, but most definitely not the one we see in the opening scene. No, that one is a stone-cold kicker, locked inside a mental institution/prison, scars over her body and fan mail/gifts flowing in. The film isn’t about Fox’s titular Jennifer and her demonic possession; it’s about Seyfried’s Needy and how such a sweet girl could become so utterly bad-ass.
With a whole cast of people having a good time hamming things up, there are always a couple standouts. Not counting a fun cameo by genre vet Lance Henriksen, the performances by Johnny Simmons, J.K. Simmons, and Adam Brody beg mention. Young Simmons is a precisely calculated bundle of nerves and awkwardness playing Needy’s boyfriend Chip. He epitomizes the naïve boy stumbling on his words and left without a backbone when Jennifer comes to steal his girl away to attend a concert at a bar outside of town. The elder Simmons actually showcases many of the same insecurities as a teacher. Pulling off his best George Segal look, this role is the exact opposite to the usual boisterous and outspoken characters we are used to watching him play. But the guy that steals the show, and every scene he is in, has to be Adam Brody. The kid just exudes charisma and possesses impeccable comic timing as the prick lead singer of Low Shoulder, a band who’s single is played everywhere and becomes a sort of unofficial anthem for the town after a freak fire burns down the club they play at, along with many of the townies in attendance.
And it is that scene which characterizes the tone of the film. So random and so surreal, the bar is burning to the ground, people are screaming and running around in flames, yet Fox and Seyfried are watching it all while Brody nonchalantly tells them how happy he is that they got out. Carnage left and right, he just offers a drink and an invitation to his van. The juxtaposition is so outrageous that it works completely, as do all the other moments of absurd hilarity. Because, you see, Jennifer’s Body is not out to reign supreme in the slasher or psychological terror bins of horror; it strictly wants to have fun while serving up a nice helping of blood and dismemberment. Don’t take anything seriously—and honestly, how could you—ignore the nails-on-a-chalkboard dialogue, (“I’m not jealous” “You are so Jello, you are lime green Jello), and just let the camp consume you. Complete with a pretty decent rock compilation soundtrack and end credits montage with a pretty great epilogue to the party, all involved play it right and never take anything seriously. That’s a good thing.